The footage has been broadcast all around the world. On December 14, 2008, Iraqi journalist Muntazer al Zaidi threw his shoes at former American President George Bush during his last visit to the country. This rebellious act was applauded by fellow Iraqis, other arab countries and even in the West.
Muntazer al Zaidi became a hero in the eyes of many but has paid a heafty price as he was sent to prison for 3 years. Nine months of this sentence was spent in a jail in Bagdad where he claims to have been repeatedly beaten, tortured and kept in solitary confinement.
Last september, he was released early for good behaviour. As he walked free, his family greeted him while the Bagdad crowds cheered. After his sentence, he was expecting a new life in a new house offered to him by his employer , al Baghdadia television, as well as gifts from political leaders. However, many of those expectations were not fulfilled.
We met Muntazer al Zaidi in Geneva, where he was going to deliver a speech at a conference on investigative journalism. He now lives in both Geneva and Beirut as he can no longer consider Iraq as his home.
Muntazer al Zaidi, thank you for talking to Euronews. You said many times that your act was not premeditated, but when you walked in that room with George W Bush, did you know you were going to throw your shoes at him?
Muntazer al Zaidi: Yes yes I know
Euronews: And do you regret it?
Muntazer al Zaidi: No I don’t regret this because Bush has killed my people. He has killed a million people and made many widows and orphans. Anybody in my place would not regret it either.
Euronews: Are you sorry you missed him then?
Muntazer al Zaidi: Yes, really sorry
Euronews: You spent nearly a year in prison, you have been tortured, how was it in that prison?
Muntazer al Zaidi: The first three days were very hard because the torture was awful and painful. They broke my nose and my heel. They also beat me on my back, on my kidneys, on my stomach and on my head.
Euronews: Why? What did they want from you?
Muntazer al Zaidi: They always asked me the same question. Why did i do it? Why did I attack Bush when he had freed my country.
Euronews: You are a journalist and normally the weapons for a journalist are his pen and his words. Did you cross the line there?
Muntazer al Zaidi: Many years before my act, I worked as a journalist and defended my country with my pen and my words.
Did they see me when I covered the massacres in Sadr city? Did they see me when i filmed a documentary about women being raped by US soldiers and others killed along with their families? I threw my shoes because I wanted to send a message to the world, a message of peace.
You don’t know the half of what goes on in Iraq… how the americans treat our people.
Euronews: Yes we had an idea when we saw this video on April 5th which shows an American helicopter firing at two Reuters journalists and at a number of Iraqi civilians, and that is really another of the signs of the handling of this war by the Americans. But after all, do you think that something good might have come from this war such as democracy, or getting rid of Saddam?
Muntazer al Zaidi: Listen, everything Bush has said about this war is a lie. Believe me, there is no such thing as democracy or human rights in Iraq. Take for instance what is happening now with the elections. It is almost as if a prisoner was tortured and given the choice of which tool to be tortured with. That’s how it is, they are all alike.
Euronews: You shouted that the shoes were for the widows and the orphans of Iraq. Now you have started a foundation to help the victims of the war. How is that shaping up?
Muntazer al Zaidi: To be honest with you, many people promised me gifts when i was in prison. However, when I came out of jail, none of them kept their promises.
Euronews: In the media, there were reports about you getting exotic presents such as limousines, gold, job offers and even virgin brides?
Muntazer al Zaidi: That’s all lies. Even the house of Al Bagdadia television which I had passed on to my foundation was taken back as a result of political pressure.
Euronews: By throwing your shoes now you are famous. You are really a hero for the arab world, how do you live with that?
Muntazer al Zaidi: It was not only the Arabs who were happy with my act. All over the world, people took to the streets when i was released from prison and told me that Bush had been lying.
Euronews: You are now a tremendously symbolic figure and you represent freedom for a lot of the Arab world. Is somebody using you?
Muntazer al Zaidi: Of course, many people hide behind that symbol… several have even tried to buy me off.
Euronews: What are you going to do now? Are you just going to be remembered as the man who threw his shoes at George W Bush?
Muntazer al Zaidi: I don’t want people to remember me because I threw my shoes at George Bush, no… not at all. But I hope that the people will always remember one thing: That while Bush said the iraqi would welcome him with roses, they actually hit him with shoes.